Four or five years ago, when I was working on Backyard Foraging, I visited the Indianapolis Museum of Art with a group of garden writers. The grounds are gorgeous (worth a visit whether or not you go into the museum), and I was struck by how many edible ornamentals they included in the landscape. So I was thrilled to be invited back this fall to lead a foraging walk on the grounds, and give a lecture after a foraged feast.
There’s nothing like watching the face of someone tasting a wild food for the first time. You can talk about the joys of foraging as much as you like, but a tasty bite is more convincing than words will ever be. Some students are eager to taste anything. You need to keep an eye on them, lest they pop something unauthorized into their mouths. Others are highly hesitant and need considerable persuading. Be sure to give these students something undeniably delicious as a first bite.
On the grounds of the IMA, we tasted sharply lemony begonia flowers, passed around black walnuts and acorns, bit into weedy purslane, and even did some volunteer weeding of fresh, young garlic mustard. There were juniper berries, fresh shoots of creeping Jenny, not quite ripe crabapples, succulent sedum leaves, prickly pears, pungent chrysanthemum foliage, sorrel, and perhaps most delicious of all: tropical-tasting kousa dogwood fruit. We scoped out serviceberries, hostas, and ostrich ferns for feasting on next spring, and noticed ripening rose hips which should be ready in just a few weeks. All this on a morning walk at an art museum.
I have no illusions that every one of my students will become foragers. But I know that everyone learned something and I think they all enjoyed the walk. And if one (or more) of them decides to dig a little deeper into the wonderful world of wild foods, well that’s more than good enough for me. Delicious food is all around, if you know where to look.
Photos courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.